"Capitalism" in China's constitution

Chris Burford cburford at gn.apc.org
Tue Feb 2 22:54:18 PST 1999

At 16:59 31/01/99 -0800, :

> China to Put Deng Xiaoping Theory into
> Constitution

> According to a proposal submitted by the CPC
> Central Committee to the just ended 7th meeting of
> the Standing Committee of the Ninth NPC, a total of
> six major revisions will be made to the Constitution.
> One of the most important amendments is to put
> "Deng Xiaoping Theory" and "develop a socialist
> market economy" into the Preface of the
> Constitution, according to the proposal.
> In addition, the phrase "is currently" in the sentence
> of "China is currently in the primary stage of
> socialism" in the Preface will be revised into "will be
> over a long period of time".

I regard the above as highly significant. It has been a major issue in the theory and practice of marxism about how fast the process to socialism and communism could be. Marxism recognises the interpenetration of systems of production between eras. Prior to the October Revolution, there was controversy among marxists about whether Russia could move to socialism without an intervening period of capitalism. Certain of Marx's remarks indicated that the continuation of areas of peasant communism could be a positive source of revolutionary potential. It was only just before the October Revolution that Lenin decided that it was possible to move rapidly on from the February Revolution. This was partly influenced by the precise nature of the balance of forces, and by the need to have a further revolution in order to extract Russia from the imperialist war which had led to the disintegration of the Second International.

That step having been taken, there was a momentum to events with the young Soviet Republic having to defend itself by force of arms, including against former recent bourgeois democratic and petty bourgeois allies, and it developed its own revolutionary institutions that had a life of their own. One of Lenin's last major analytical pieces of writing, "On Cooperation", implies the necessity for a mixed economy for at least a generation, for materialist reasons. But this was not found in terms of political practice to be necessary and in the countries and the parties influenced by the Soviet Union, the essay was not much emphasised as a way forward.

In China, after the New Democratic Revolution, the party proceeded rather rapidly to the collectivisation of agriculture which was done with less loss of life than in the Soviet Union, and to squeezing out the national bourgeoisie. This was caught up also in contradictions between Mao's view of the strategic way ahead and his desire to avoid the pressure of imposition of a Soviet type model.

The communes which were praised as the next step, arguably drew democratic features from Chinese collective peasant life in China's semi-feudal society. While many features of this primitive communism appeared very idealistic, and at times productive, as the economic pressures of the Cultural Revolution continued, showed the strategy under question to be inefficient in the use of labour time by comparison to capitalism, and idealist in terms of politics.

Concurrently as the Soviet Economic bloc crumbled in the face of economic warfare, China has had to evaluate how it can survive in a global capitalist/imperialist dominated world, in which it is no longer possible totally to insulate a nation in order to build "socialism in one country".

The few words above to be added to the Chinese constitution therefore indicate a line of thinking that China may need a mixed economy for a century while contradictions work themselves out on a global scale.

If you accept this argument, the crunch will be whether the overall economy still could be said to be managed politically in terms of social production controlled with social foresight, in the words of Marx's address to the First International. Whether China makes progressive global alliances including with social democrats to bring in social control on a global scale will be important, and I suggest likely. A key issue for me is whether internally they would simply privatise land, which is still in public ownership. There might have to be more sophisticated ways of monitoring and controlling the use of land to combine local flexibility with wider strategic planning, but with the aid of computers there could be convergence with social democratic regimes especially in Europe, which need to regulate processes like the common agricultural policy with greater social responsibility.

In summary there is nothing to guarantee that this compromise is not a compromise of principle, but in the context of the world balance of forces it could allow China to strengthen its economic power and political influence, and help to win a bigger prize: the social control of production on a global scale.

Chris Burford London

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